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Thousands more Rohingya flee Myanmar

August 29, 2017

More than 18,000 Rohingya muslims have fled to Bangladesh since fighting erupted in Myanmar's Rakhine state last week. Thousands more remain stuck in no man's land between borders.

Bildergalerie Myanmar Rohingya Flüchtlinge flüchten nach Bangladesch
Image: Reuters/M. Ponir Hossain

Bangladeshi authorities have toughened border patrols in a bid to prevent more Rohingyas from entering a country that already hosts an estimated 400,000 Rohingya refugees.

At least 18,500 Rohingyas, mostly women and children, have registered in Bangladesh, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday. An attack by Rohingya insurgents on security forces in northern Rakhine had triggered the mass exodus.

"They are in a very, very desperate condition," said Sanjukta Sahany, who runs the IOM office in the southern Bangladeshi town of Cox's Bazar near the border.

"The biggest needs are food, health services and they need shelter. They need at least some cover, some roofs over their heads."

Sahany said many crossed "with bullet injuries and burn injuries," and that aid workers reported that some refugees "gave a blank look" when questioned. "People are traumatised, which is quite visible."

UN appeals to Bangladesh

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged Myanmar and Bangladesh to allow humanitarian access to people impacted by the clashes in Rakhine.

Aid agencies should be granted "unfettered and free access to affected communities in need of assistance and protection," Guterres's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement on Monday.

The recent clashes between Myanmar security forces and Rohingya insurgents have killed at least 109 people – the majority of whom were insurgents, plus 12 members of Myanmar security forces and several citizens, the Myanmar military said.

The violence has prompted a large number of the Muslim minority and Buddhist civilians to flee in the northern part of the state into neighboring Bangladesh.

Read more: Bangladesh forces back scores of Rohingya despite Myanmar violence

Trouble at Bangladesh border

On Saturday, Myanmar soldiers reportedly opened fire on Rohingya villagers who were fleeing the clashes.

Following reports that Bangladeshi authorities had been forcibly returning Rohingya civilians, Guterres urged the Muslim-majority nation to allow them to seek safety.

"Recognizing that Bangladesh has hosted generously refugees from Myanmar for decades, the secretary-general appeals for the authorities to continue to allow the Rohingya fleeing violence to seek safety in Bangladesh;" the UN statement said.

Erdogan urges international aid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the international community on Monday to do more to help the Rohingya minority, one of the world's largest stateless communities.

"Unfortunately I can say the world is blind and deaf to what is going on in Myanmar," Erdogan said in a television interview. "It does not hear and it does not see." 

He described the current situation of refugees fleeing to Bangladesh as an "extremely painful event." Erdogan added that he will take up the issue at the UN General Assembly next month.

Myanmar's Suu Kyi under fire

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
Suu Kyi has been criticized for not speaking up on behalf of the long-persecuted Muslim minorityImage: Reuters/E. Su

The government of Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn criticism from some of her counterparts in the West.

Around 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya currently living in mainly Buddhist Myanmar have been denied citizenship and are classified as illegal immigrants. The communities, which claim roots that go back for hundreds of years, are marginalized and subjected to violence.

Suu Kyi has condemned the attacks by insurgents and praised security forces. The Nobel peace laureate has also dismissed accusations of atrocities carried out against the Rohingya and denied visas to UN officials tasked with investigating the allegations.

In October, a similar series of insurgent attacks on police posts in Myanmar prompted a brutal military response that resulted in human rights abuse allegations.

ap, rs/cmk (Reuters, AFP, AP)